Wildling

One day, after an early morning walk by the river, I came back home with this photograph, and the unexpected urge to write a poem. I did write the poem, and today, it was published by Strands Publishers, making my grey and wet Sunday feel all bright and sunny. It’s incidentally my first publication in India, which makes it even more special.

The poem is called ‘Wildling’, and it’s there below the two feisty swans, and online at http://strandspublishers.weebly.com/lit-sphere/wildling
I hope you enjoy it, this piece of my river.
Wildling
Morning has broken
                 
open, bleeding into the river.

The streetlamps are still on.

Two swans float up in unhurried hunger

for bread I do not have.

Twenty-two huddle farther up the river

asleep, their necks wrung

into their wings. A lull

of white feathers on which water does not stick.

Their river is always dry.

It is land.

My river runs by me

reflecting runners, dreams and detritus.

A life of moorings and unmoorings,

a mirror of semi-truths –

where the light of a dog-pissed streetlamp

looks like flecks of real gold.

I stand still, very still. Watching

my body ripple and quiver like a wildling.

A swan passes by and I shatter into pixels.

But I can wait, I have nowhere I need to be.

The waters will calm, I will patch together again.


(Please feel free to share the link on social media, or just with the person sitting next to you – Strands is a wonderful independent publisher, and really deserves the support.)

How the Hills Roll

We ended August by driving out to the Lake District, and from there onto Scotland, and got back last week. But as usual, it’s taken me longer to come back to this space. I quite enjoy keeping away from the laptop these days. As much as I enjoy coming back to catch up with those of you who are still here. I hope you’ve been well!

When we reached the Lake District and our little, whitewashed B&B in the village of Near Sawrey, I looked at the hills and realised that I’d forgotten to pack my watercolours. For this, I’m thankful. I could never have done justice to the light and the land, to the greens that were at once opaque and translucent, the ferns that were delicate and raucous, and the dew-soaked smell of wild things.

I could not have captured the trickle of the brook, the scores of tiny snails clinging onto half-eaten leaves, or the smile of the woman who invited us into her garden for freshly-picked runner beans.

I would not have known how to paint the din of the village pub, the warmth of strangers with whom we had many long conversations as we sat with our pints in the evening, nor the wisps of smoke that rose from our coil of Cumberland sausage. 
This was the same pub that Beatrix Potter had painted in her Peter Rabbit books a century-and-a-half ago. And much like the pub and her paintings, her hills haven’t changed. They speak straight to your soul, they slow down your thoughts, they inspire poems, and roll on as gently as they always have.

We walked up the hills and down, we met people who told us stories of how their great-grandfathers had built their houses, grown their gardens and died with a love of The Lakes in their heart. We stopped to pick blackberries. They’d been washed shiny from the rains of the night before. We ate the blackberries standing by the road. The bushes were prickly, the fruits sweet and tart. They stained our fingers the same shade as the sky at sunset, when the last light dipped behind the hills.


Blackberry-Picking
by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

A year older

 

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

There’s been much said about what James Wright meant by the last line. For some, it means what it says – a wasted life, a regret. But in my mind, there’s never been any doubt that he meant quite the opposite. I can see him, lying in the hammock, his proverbial tongue in his proverbial cheek, gently laughing at those who rush and run. Laughing at those who think lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm is a waste of time. Because James knew, even then, that they were all wrong. That life was in watching a bronze butterfly sleep, listening to cowbells, and seeing the chicken hawk float home. And so he laughed and changed not a damn thing; just swung on his hammock as day turned to dusk. 

When I was young, I would stare at the clouds for hours with my school books open in front of me; Ma Baba kept the curtians drawn before an exam. And now, as I get on with this business of being an adult, I still find time to waste. 

It’s midnight now. July 22, 00:00 hours, the laptop tells me. Which means I’ve just turned a year older. Two sleepy voices, one big and one little, will sing me Happy Birthday in a few minutes. And there’s one thing I know for certain: I’ve wasted my life well. 


If you’re in London, and fancy joining me for a spot of time wasting, please drop by The Society Club in Soho on July 25 – I’ll be there for the launch of Structo Magazine’s new issue, and I’d love to meet you! Structo publishes a fantastic anthology of fiction and poetry, and I’m very proud to have my work in its new issue. I’ll be doing a reading from my story ‘Dancing in the Drawing Room’, which is part of the anthology (available online and in bookstores post July 25).

Details for the launch and reading, here, if you can make it!

Have a happy, wasted week, everyone!


 

Ginseng Tea by the Window

I’m drinking tea
that tastes of black pepper,
old pages, mountains
in the monsoon.

I’m in a cafe in
Cambridge. I’m on a
road in India,
curving around
Coonoor,
back in a car
with Ma and Baba,
my brother
and everything is green,
green.

I take another
sip, another,
and mountain walls well up. 
Deep green, like thoughts.
A mossy wall of thoughts
left behind
by weary travellers,
happy travellers, travellers
throwing up from bus-windows
at hairpin bends,
sleepy travellers, heads
nodding down down,
jerking up.

Those thoughts, here
in my cup of hot water
and Ginseng flower. Tepid
now, but brewing great distances.

I don’t know where that came from today; I haven’t written in verse in years. I’ll leave that with you as we pack our bags to go were the cicadas sing. To a little village in Provence. We’ve always wanted to do a road-trip in the south of France, without a map, without an itinerary. And here it is now.

I hope my tea took you somewhere too.

My purple-time person

Old ladies have a thing for purple. I don’t know whether it’s just old English ladies; I think it might be. I noticed it when we first moved here. There’d be soft white hair tucked into a purple hat, the hat matched with a purple skirt. There’d be a purple raincoat with a purple-handled walking stick. A purple bag, purple socks. And not the quiet kind of purple, either. It always made me smile.
A few days ago, I read this poem, and it made me smile too. I read the first line, and I thought – I was right! It’s a fact, like belly-buttons are a fact: when you become old, and English, you wear purple. After an entire lifetime of benign greys and polite browns, something rips out of them in purple song. Look, I’m here, and don’t you dare think I’m done, they say. It’s the way the sky turns purple just before the day ends. Twilights.
This poem is for D, I called him at work to read it out to him. But then, he’s my purple-time person. My purple-time, every-time, my in-between-time person.
There’s a recipe too at the end. Only because I happened to cook this good, spicy aubergine, and aubergine’s purple too. It matches the poem, and it matches the lovely old ladies who make me smile.
The poem first:

Warning
by Jenny Joseph
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. 

And now the food:

Spicy sesame aubergine with red peppers

Ingredients

6-8 small aubergines, cut into longish pieced
1 large red pepper, sliced
1 white onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 green chillies
2 tsp tahini paste
2 tsp sesame
2-3 tsp sunflower or vegetable oil

Olive oil for drizzling

Heat the sunflower oil, saute the onion and garlic till lightly browned.
Add the aubergines, peppers, tahini, chillies and salt. Lower the heat, cover and cook till soft.
Increase heat and stir to dry up any extra water.
Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Drizzle with olive oil.
Serve hot with pita or steamed rice.

Paris at night

I’m a little bit in love with Jacques Prévert at the moment. His words are so simple, and complicated. Separate, and tangled. Ordinary, and magical. Like water in a river.

Here’s the first of a series of his poems that I must share with you.



Paris at night

Three matchsticks lit one by one in the night
The first to see the whole of your face
The second to see your eyes
The third to see your mouth
And complete darkness to remember this all
With you locked in my arms.

 _ _ _ _ _ 

And the original…

Trois allumettes une à une allumées dans la nuit
La premiére pour voir ton visage tout entier
La seconde pour voir tes yeux
La dernière pour voir ta bouche
Et l’obscuritè tout entière pour me rappeler tout cela
En te serrant dans mes bras.





Jacques Prévert
(1900-1977)

{midweek monochrome}

Messy room by Shel Silverstein
Whosever room this is should be ashamed! 
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar! 

Valentine


valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

{midweek monochrome}







 

Sometimes, When the Light
By Lisel Mueller
Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

And you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

Or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

You know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

Something secret is going on,
so marvellous and dangerous

That if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

{midweek monochrome}

The Mistake
Alicia E. Stallings
  

The mistake was light and easy in my hand,
A seed meant to be borne upon the wind.
I did not have to bury it or throw,
Just open up my hand and let it go.
The mistake was dry and small and without weight,
A breeze quickly snatched it from my sight,
And even had I wanted to prevent,
Nobody could tell me where it went.
I did not think on the mistake again,
Until the spring came, soft, and full of rain,
And in the yard such dandelions grew
That bloomed and closed, and opened up, and blew.

You can also find this on Susan’s wonderful blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook, for Black & White Wednesday.